Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

August 14, 2014


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Most conference attendees fly to the conference city. Me? I’m not big on airplanes—and even less tolerant of airport hassle. Schlepping a suitcase between terminals? Barefoot strolls through security? Interminable layovers?

Thanks, but no thanks. When it’s at all feasible, I’d rather travel by car.

A car trip from Flagstaff to San Antonio for Romance Writers of America’s 2014 National Conference seemed do-able. At least that was the conclusion my NARWA chapter mates Anne Marie Becker and Alison DeLaine and I came to.

I can hear you now: Two days and 14-plus hours in the car is do-able? Are you nuts?

Quite possibly. But when you regularly drive an hour and a half just to get to RWA meetings, 14 hours in the car doesn’t seem nearly as ludicrous. (Lengthy drive time is one of the—er—perks of a chapter that encompasses the northern third of Arizona.)

Believe it or not, there are advantages to taking a real road trip to and from conference.

9. Better scenery. Instead of staring at clouds and an endless expanse of blue sky (if you’re lucky enough to get a window seat), you get to see giant windmills dominating the plain and farmers in their fields. Texas farmland is is just as green as Indiana’s. Smells the same, too.

Near Sweetwater, Texas

Near Sweetwater, Texas

Tried to take a photo of the sunset reflected in the mirror.

Tried to take a photo of the sunset reflected in the mirror. It kinda works, right?

8. Time for side jaunts. As we drove through New Mexico on our way to Texas, we took a short detour to Billy the Kid’s gravesite. Just outside of Fort Sumner, the sign beckoned us … so Anne Marie turned down the side road and drove until we reached the historical marker at the cemetery.

Being a fan of "Young Guns," I didn't turn down the chance to stop.

Being a fan of “Young Guns,” I didn’t turn down the chance to stop.

Billy the Kid grave

7. Cargo room. Unlike the poor suckers who flew to San Antonio who had to pay to ship stuff home, we had plenty of room to bring back swag. That I didn’t come home with a ton of new reading material is because I still have unread books from Anaheim in 2012. And I only fit all my clothes in one smallish suitcase because I didn’t have that many clothes to pack. Four dresses, two pairs of pants and matching shirts, sleepwear and (too many) shoes.

Apparently, I pack light.

Apparently, I pack light.

Note to self: Next time, don’t bother with the sneakers. You won’t make it to the gym anyway.

6. Crazy timetable. If you decide to make the return trip all in one day (instead of splitting it in two) because one of you (*cough, cough* ME) is scheduled to work Monday afternoon, no one will stop you. The SUV put up a bit of a protest, dishing out hot air through the air conditioner vents in the midday Texas sun. But we drove with the windows cracked for  about an hour and then, when we turned the AC back on, it was fine.

5. Excellent conversation. Sitting in the car for so many hours, you have nothing but time to work out sticky plot points, brainstorm ideas for the chapter and sing along with Apple’s “Ladies of the 80s” station … at the top of your lungs, of course. Car singing is best done at full volume.

4. Plenty of diet Dr Pepper. Only in Texas, where you see billboards advertising my favorite diet soda every 30 minutes or so, can you get diet Dr. Pepper at most soda fountains. Look hard enough and you might just find an entire refrigerated case full of Dr Pepper. (This one was in Texico … N.M., I think. But it’s on the border.)

Only in Texas ...

Only in Texas …

3. Flexible arrival/departure times. On our way to San Antonio, we crossed two state lines—and lost an hour each time. It didn’t matter much on Monday, when we went from Arizona to New Mexico. But Alison and I had dinner get-togethers planned Tuesday night. We didn’t properly account for the lost hour from N.M. to Texas and had to book it through Texas to make it to dinner.

2. Ample rest stops. You never know what you’ll find in those convenience store/gas stations. I considered buying this mug — until I figured Starbucks didn’t sell a drink big enough to fill it.



1. It’s a grand adventure. From racing a monsoon storm to Interstate 40 to touring beautiful downtown Clovis, N.M., by moonlight on the way to our mid-point hotel, you make countless memories. I think I Instagrammed more photos in that one week than in the whole month prior.

Bonus: (Mind you, this has nothing to do with the car trip, but I couldn’t resist adding it anyway.)

Cowboys. ‘Nuff said.

At the Amazon reception

At the Amazon reception

Complete strangers getting married the first time they meet?

Sounds crazy, right? There’s no way it would happen in real life.

Umm … think again. Turns out the premise of BLIND DATE BRIDE isn’t so far-fetched after all. It was just years ahead of its time.

When I came up with the idea of two losers at love finally winning the “Get a Love Life” contest they never entered (way back in 1990-something), it might have been out there. Not so today, when reality TV show premises get nuttier and nuttier.

One of the latest? “Married at First Sight,” an A&E networks presentation.

Married, an adaptation of a hit Danish format, will also include four specialists who will create what they believe are three perfect couples based on scientific matchmaking. The first meeting for these couples, each comprised of people who’ve had no prior luck in the love department, will be as they walk down the aisle.

(Emphasis is mine.) Sounds vaguely familiar, doesn’t it?

Of course, my Kari and Damien don’t win the contest’s grand prize based on scientific matchmaking. They’re merely the folks with the worst love lives in America, as selected by a panel of experts that includes Dr. Drew and Danielle Steel. And they marry and live together to get the prize money, of which there appears to be none in the A&E show.

“Married at First Sight” premieres on A&E’s FYI network (formerly BIO) on July 8. Find more info here.

As a romance writer, I sincerely hope they succeed. Realistically, I know they probably won’t.

Luckily, my BLIND DATE BRIDE can satisfy your need for happily-ever-after. Find it at AmazonBarnes & Noble and Kobo, and in print at CreateSpace or Amazon.

I have a confession: I love reality TV.

Well, not all reality TV. I’ve never watched a full episode of “Big Brother” or “The Amazing Race”—and I quit watching “Survivor” several years ago, about the time the networks decided to make me choose between it and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

But before my day job became a “night job,” forcing me to work through prime time TV hours, you could find me glued to shows like “Mr. Personality,” “Joe Millionaire,” “Temptation Island” and “My Big, Fat Obnoxious Fiance.”

Notice a pattern there? All FOX shows, the trashier the better. 😉 Seriously. If it had train-wreck potential, I tuned in and eagerly awaited the derailment. (Anyone remember “Playing It Straight”?)

My love of trash-tastic reality shows probably made it easier for me to dream up BLIND DATE BRIDE. I had no problem imagining a reality show run amok.


The story starts with two reluctant grand-prize winners in Romance TV’s “Get a Love Life” contest. Their “prize” for having the worst love lives in America—as selected by a panel of experts that included Dr. Drew and Danielle Steel—is a blind date wedding. To claim the prize money, Kari and Damien must marry and live together for ninety days.

When the ratings from the wedding special are through the roof, the network offers Kari and Damien another opportunity: More cold, hard cash to let a camera crew film them 24/7 for a “Newlyweds”-type show called “Just Married.” Because they both have plans for the cash, they agree.

And that, my friends, is where the craziness really begins. Because marrying someone you’ve never met before isn’t crazy enough, right?

BLIND DATE BRIDE, my first single title indie-pubbed novel, goes on sale tomorrow. I hope you have as much fun reading it as I did writing it.

Blind Date Bride | Arlene HittleThe blurb:

Nearly a decade ago, accountant Kari Parker shed 220 pounds of dead weight — her hulking, abusive college boyfriend. The last thing she wants in her life is another man — especially one as tall as a Windy City high rise. Yet when her best friend enters her in Romance TV’s “Get a Love Life” contest, another man is exactly what she gets. As much as she’d love to just say no, she can’t turn down the prize money that will allow her to help her parents save the restaurant they’ve run all her life. Sparks fly between Kari and her bogus groom, and as she and Damien share close quarters, intimate meals and — gulp — his bed, Kari doesn’t stand a chance of resisting his considerable charms. Even worse? She might not want to. But building a real future out of their sham marriage will be tougher than baking a wedding cake from scratch … with no flour … in a broken oven.

May 11, 2014



Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there.

As you might know, my mother’s no longer with us. She died in 2003. That was 11 years ago? Wow. It doesn’t seem possible that she’s been gone so long.

Maybe that’s because I always carry her with me, courtesy of all the lessons she taught me over the years.


At their engagement party. My brother thinks Dad has a bit of a Conan O’Brien look going on.

Before I was born, my mom taught English and math—to high school students. I can’t imagine. Seems like they’d be the worst age to handle, with all the raging hormones, overwrought teen drama and bad attitude. But she seemed to have liked it—and her students seemed to have fond memories of her, too. (I went to school with a lot of the kids of the kids she taught.)

Among her lessons:

1. Reading is fun.

I can’t count the number of times I saw my mom with a book. She was always reading, everything from classic Updike to Danielle Steel. It was the influence of her and my dad, another voracious reader, that got me reading at age 4. My parents read all the time and I wanted to be like them, so they taught me to sound it out.


Naked butter cookies.

2. Butter cookies rule.

There are two types of people in the world: Sugar cooke folks and butter cookie fans. Our family falls into the latter category. Mom’s butter cookie recipe, which she got from her mom (who apparently shared it with Kelly Ripa), is flaky, crisp and just sweet enough.

About Kelly Ripa: I’ll never forget Mom calling me, excited because Kelly made her family’s favorite Christmas cookies on her show—and it was mom’s recipe that she shared. I guess Grandma got it off a box of butter or something?

Every year, after Mom baked the cookies (which I now know is a pain in the butt, rolling out the dough and cutting the shapes), she’d frost them while my brother and I decorated with sprinkles, colored sugar and other fun toppings. (My fave was the tiny candies shaped like flowers.)

3. Live life—and attack problems—with humor.

This is probably the biggie. My mother had a great sense of humor. She was the mom who sat in the back of the band bus and told jokes, or sat around the Girl Scout campfire telling funny stories.

She laughed a lot, and was first to deflect sadness with a joke or smile. Er, actually my whole family is like that. I remember when Dad died, my brother, cousins and I broke from the funeral home for pizza, and laughed jokes and funny stories until our sides ached.

Laugh through the tears, I guess.

Wikipedia tells me it was Ella Wheeler Wilcox, a Wisconsinite, who wrote “laugh and the world laughs with you.”


Laugh, and the world laughs with you;

Weep, and you weep alone.

For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth

But has trouble enough of its own.

— From “The Way of the World,” a poem (1883)

That may well be—but my mother lived it.

I, for one, am glad, because I got my sense of humor from her. I’m quick to laugh and I crack jokes at what some people might call inappropriate times.

Every time a line in one of my books makes a reader laugh out loud, I hope she hears it and knows that she had a hand in making the world a happier place.